Around about the last half of 2015, a number of high-profile publishers such as Forbes, The Washington Post, and GQ began experimenting with erecting ad block walls.
It’s the latest attempt to ward off the damaging effects of ad blocking — but there’s not much evidence to show this new technique is really working.
The majority of them work by detecting when an ad blocker user enters the site and preventing them from viewing any content until they either turn off their ad blocker or hand over some money — in the form of a long-term subscription or a micro-payment.
Lots of publishers have been declaring their ad blocker walls a relative success. As chronicled by PageFair’s head of ecosystem Dr Johnny Ryan in a report for the International News Media Association entitled “What To Do About Ad blocking,” a smattering of publishers have released early results.
- Forbes said its experiment led to 42.3% of those asked either disabling their ad blockers or white-listing Forbes.com.
- City AM said more than a quarter of readers turned off their ad blockers in its trial
- GQ (which is asking for users to either turn off their ad blocker or pay a micro-payment of between $0.25 and $0.50) had a 30% take-up rate, according to the report.
- IDG Communications said 37% of its B2B audience and 38% of its B2C audience white-listed the publisher once asked.
However, early success stories might not signal a long-term antidote
PageFair, which helps publishers measure their ad blocking traffic and find ways to monetise that audience, said a test across its own clients’ websites of such ad block appeal walls yielded “poor results.”
It ran 576 appeal campaigns across 220 publishers’ sites and found only 0.33% of ad blocker users added an ad block exception for the publisher. Of those users, one-third only made temporary exceptions. Just 0.22% permanently whitelisted the publisher.
City AM serves ad blocker users with this message and blurs out all but the first two paragraphs of its articles:
There are also signs that the ad block walls aren’t working from a technical perspective.
PageFair’s internal tests of other websites conducted in January 2016 found The Washington Post and GQ’s walls were not functioning at all and users can fully browse both sites.
Forbes’ wall, meanwhile, is “porous” — it can be overcome by simply restarting the ad blocker once the initial wall is passed. Forbes did say earlier this month, however, that it plans to rectify this.
The wall on Bild (owned by Axel Springer, which is also Business Insider’s parent company) “is displaying its landing page consistently” — sometimes the appeal displays perfectly, whereas one of PageFair’s testers found it to be broken and failing to load.
PageFair’s Ryan says there are other important caveats for publishers to consider too:
Ad blockers have been known to develop the technology to bypass ad block walls in the past. TV companies have been trialing ad block walls for years to prevent ad blocker users getting a free pass for their lucrative video content.
Blocking access is risky. News content in particular is commoditized. If a publisher prevents an ad blocker user viewing an article, they can just simply bounce away and find the story elsewhere — and never return.
Ad blockers are valuable users. Ryan thinks they should be treated as a “high-value segment” by publishers.
We asked Ryan to explain why he thinks waving goodbye to users is like “looking a gift-horse in the mouth.”
He believes many users are downloading ad blockers in order to switch off tracking. Ryan says publishers should revert back to a more offline-style of advertising — showing “above-the-line”-type ads that don’t track the user, more like magazine ads, which he says are more effective than digital ads. Publishers could still have a relationship with their audiences (presumably through user registrations) and sell based on their audiences (just like TV, magazine, and radio companies do) but the advertiser and ad tech industry “should take whatever crumbs that are left available for them and be bloody happy.”
Should one defend themselves and wave goodbye to these wonderful ad blocking people who are breaking down the status quo that has really damaged the business? Should I, as a publisher, wave bye-bye to them? Or should I start to explore how to show them a pure form of ad that does not rely on tracking them to within an inch of their lives?
If I could do that, I think that would be much better for a brand. I could sell a smaller number of ads that didn’t need to shout over each other and each ad would be worth more. And I think users would thank publishers for not having ads thrown at them or for being thrown out the website.
Saying no to people who block is looking a gift horse in the mouth. This is a chance for publishers to really set the dynamic that has hurt publishers greatly.
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